Uncategorized » How to Build Healthy Habits
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

When someone asks me how to create healthier habits, their mentality is the first thing I have them focus on. I believe that the power of our thoughts over our lives is as critical as the air we breathe; we will never be able to create anything lasting without first adopting the correct mindset. Because fundamentally, what the mind believes, the mind creates.

Of course, establishing healthier habits will sometimes be challenging. Everything comes with a learning curve, including healthier eating, regular exercise, and positive mental health. A strong mindset will be what helps us overcome any difficulties along the way.

But that is easier said than done. How does one go about creating a positive mentality? Here are a few of my favorite tips for beginning this process and ultimately forming healthier habits.

Visualize Who You Would Like to Be

I often begin with a few visualization exercises, which anyone can quickly complete. If you have a moment now and want to try them out, start by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How and where do I see myself in a year?
  2. What version of myself am I going to be?
  3. How do I feel about this person?

Try not to judge any thoughts that might occur to you as you consider these questions. Just be mindful of what flows through your mind as you look ahead. Now, you can take these questions a little further. How do you see yourself in five years? How do you feel about the person you can become? How do you perceive yourself emotionally? Most importantly, do you like what you see?

Now that you can visualize who you might like to be in one or five years, it is time to visualize your first goal. Listen to your intuition: what is the first habit I can focus on to build toward my long-term vision?

Begin with Micro-Habits

So, you have done a few visualization exercises. What next?

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, has some excellent advice we can all learn from: he recommends that you focus on what you can do every day instead of on the final result. Although final results are often inspirational for your visualizations, they can seem distant, inaccessible, or even impossible when trying to change your life. To stay motivated, you should instead focus on the opposite results—those nearby, accessible, and possible.

If, during the previous exercise, you were visualizing yourself as a marathon runner in one or five years, great! But what about today and tomorrow? You must scale your immediate actions to something more attainable, such as taking a 10-minute jog or walk. After a few days of jogging a short distance, you are unlikely to look or feel that much different. But after you repeat these micro-practices for many days, they will eventually merge into significant results.

You might also find it helpful to think of micro-habits on an even smaller scale. For instance, if you find it difficult to motivate yourself to take a 10-minute walk on a busy day, can you at least commit to putting on your sneakers and getting outside? There is a good chance that once you have taken these first steps, you will do more than you thought possible.

The importance of micro-habits applies to any healthy goal you want to reach. No matter how lofty you set your goals, you must build from your current capabilities. And there is only one way to expand those capabilities—by focusing your energy on what you can realistically do daily.

build healthy habits

Create an Action Plan

Without an action plan, your goals will remain dreams, and you will likely find it impossible to incorporate micro-habits into your life. When designing your action plan, it can be helpful to focus on three things:

  1. Are my goals specific?
  2. Are my goals achievable?
  3. Are my goals tangible?

To return to the running example, consider how you might use these three questions to ensure a more effective action plan. Let’s look at three hypothetical goals:

  • I will walk or jog three to five times a week.
  • I will complete a 5-k race by the end of the year
  • I will run five miles every day after work, take a rest day on Saturday, and jog eight miles on Sundays.

Notice how these goals successfully incorporate some but not all of the three focuses mentioned above. Walking or jogging three to five times a week is likely achievable for most people but is not a very specific goal, and even though the action of running or jogging is inherently tangible in that it engages the senses, you might feel the intention is lacking in some way because it does not lead to a particular achievement, like a race. The second example, which includes a race, may feel more tangible, but it lacks day-to-day specificity. The third example is the most specific, but many people would consider it too ambitious, at least initially.

It can also be helpful to create visual reminders of your action plan. Printing out a schedule of your chosen workouts and taping it somewhere you are unlikely to miss it, such as on the fridge, can help you comply with your goals. Likewise, setting out your clothes and sneakers the night before so they are the first thing you see when you wake up can help reinforce your intentions.

Establish a Backup Plan

Inevitably, there will be reasons you cannot fulfill your plans: family emergencies, unavoidable weather, challenges at work, etc. In such instances, your action plan must not fall apart. By building in backup options, you reduce the likelihood of your doing nothing.

As with your primary goals, it is helpful if your backup plan is specific. The more details you include, the more likely you are to comply. Establish a time of day when you will fulfill your habits and block that time off to make it possible. For example, if your goal is to go for a 10-minute walk at 7:00 am before work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, you might set the backup plan of doing your walk at 6:00 pm when you return from work.

Build in Accountability and Small Rewards

The point of accountability is not to be needlessly harsh when you falter but to gain support. If you make a point to share your progress with people who care about you, they will often check in on you in the future. Although some people may feel this accountability is unnecessary, especially those who tend to be intrinsically motivated, having others who can check in on you is one way to reinforce positive behavior.

Likewise, some people might feel that healthy habits do not require rewards. And while it is true that health itself is the ultimate reward, there is no reason you cannot also include some positive reinforcement along the way. Even something as simple as using a daily tracker where you put a check mark beside your goal after completing it will create a positive connection between your intentions and your mind. By establishing this chain of repetitive events, the brain will begin associating each check mark with a completed achievement, fostering your continued commitment and driving you to follow the path you have set for yourself.

With these tools now at your disposal, you should be ready to create healthy, lasting habits. With determination, in a year, you will not be where you are today.


  1. Clear, J. Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. (Avery, New York City, 2018).
  2. Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. (Bantam Books, New York City, 1995)
  3. Échavez, R. Five steps to create a habit starting with micro habits. Beek Original audiobook.
  4. Aguirre, A. How to build self-discipline to conquer indecision. Beek Original audiobook.

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